Saturday, October 15, 2005

Pinter's wasted talents

Harold Pinter got the big one. The group of Scandinavian critics who last year gave the prize to Elfriede Jellinek, now gave the Nobel Prize to another progressive and experimental artist.

I searched the web to look for Pinter’s website, and yes: he has one.

It opens as follows:

‘In 1958 I wrote the following:"There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false." I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?’

So Pinter as a writer explores reality without making distinctions between real and unreal and true or false. Is that really possible? And if so: is that more exciting than seeing the grass grow? Or leafing through the Yellow Pages? Are some of the truly great plays not about morality and necessity? About doing evil for good reasons? About integrity and pragmatism?

Pinter writes: ‘The exploration of reality through art.’
It is a remark that can be found by thousands in catalogues of galleries for modern art. It means absolutely nothing. It is a remark to cover the emptiness of a huge chunk of modern art.

And what does Pinter mean with the distinction between being a writer and being a citizen?
I don’t have a clue what he means.

And to be honest: I still do not have a clue what most of his plays are about. As a young man I have spent many hours in the theatre watching Pinter plays, and I – how to put this? – I often did not get it.
No, let me be blunt: I was often bored to death.
At the time, it was impossible to admit this in public. There was something deep in his work, it was assumed, and he was considered important. I had no clue what the importance was. The boredom I experienced was sometimes tantalizing – and there was always a strange exultant moment when the play was over. I was grateful that the torture had ended, and in this relief I confusingly found my opinion about Pinter. It was great, I honestly could say, although I really meant: It is great it is over.

The reception of Pinter’s work is in general a collective misunderstanding. He is a modernist, and usually that means that you don’t need to develop identifiable characters or a plotline. Many modern artists cannot not draw a recognizable head or a recognizable tree. Modern art is essentially about ‘Verfremdung’, Alienation, and naturally for Alienation one does not need a basic mastery of technique.

But one has to be honest: as a screenwriter Pinter did wonderful work with Betrayel (one of his better plays) and The French Lieutenant’s woman. He is a master dialogue writer, and working within the framework of a film production with all kinds of demands from producers/directors, he wrote beautiful scripts. But I feel he spent his enormous talent on a lot of experimental nonsense.

The Scandinavian critics of the Nobel Committee are a small group of extremely arrogant snobs. Giving the prize to Pinter is, as usual, most of all a political gesture. Pinter moves around in the centre of the British radical chique, a Bush-hater, a basher of American popular culture, an anti-Iraq-veteran.

Why not Peter Schaeffer? Schaeffer is a truly great play writer. Or is his work too understandable and too identifiable?

Why not novelist Philip Roth or my countryman Harry Mulisch? Why not the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk? Why not maestro John Updike?

I can tell you why: because these laureates don’t represent a clear-cut self-hating, anti-capitalist, Eutopian political point of view. I cannot wait for Pinter’s speech when he comes to Stockholm to cash his cheque!


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